The AHL is an ever-changing environment. A difficult league with a mixed bag of player types and constant moving parts. Throughout the last couple weeks of October we we’ve been pestered with the seasonal chatter of the entry-level-slide limit of nine games played. While several NHL teams have offered their rookies spot-starts throughout the month, they’ve apparently also been doing some higher level evaluation on their youngsters who ARE eligible for the AHL.
In the month of October, the NHL offices have been swamped processing each teams recalls and reassignments [https://capfriendly.com/transactions/recalls-reassignment], below are some of the more notable demotions and how they may affect the player and the AHL team they’re joining.
Josh Ho-Sang | 28th overall, 2014 – New York Islanders (9-6-2) / Bridgeport Sound Tigers (6-7-0)
Rank on DobberProspects Islanders Page: 2nd
Ho-Sang’s demotion was one of the most surprising of October. Considering how the Islanders can be starved of offense at times after their top trio, Ho-sang seemed like a virtual lock to continue the season in Brooklyn. After being benched against the Rangers mid-month, JHS watched the next two Islander wins from the press box before being sent to Bridgeport. While the Islanders continue to win games without Ho-Sang in the lineup, his best home is in Bridgeport where he will receive optimal ice time lead the offense for an otherwise struggling group.
Update: Ho-Sang was recalled by the Islanders on Saturday after an injury to to Anthony Beauvillier. The Islanders, who suddenly again found themselves short on offense (see above) were pleased with Ho-Sang in his recall. The 21-year-old, who is on an emergency recall basis, buried a shot three minutes into the second period giving the Islanders a 4-1 lead against the Blues. Given his emergency status, Ho-Sang can stay with the team for 30 days or 10 games, whichever comes first, though that official status can be changed at any time.
Lawson Crouse | 11th overall, 2015 – Arizona Coyotes (2-14-3) / Tucson Roadrunners (8-1-2)
Rank on DobberProspects Coyotes Page: Not in Top 10
After playing nearly a full season one year ago, the 2015 draft pick has been demoted to the AHL powerhouse Tuscon Roadrunners. It seems like it was a matter of simply confirming an NHL replacement for the former first-round selection, who prior to this fall was a veteran of only two AHL games. After being traded as Dave Bolland wrapping paper from the Panthers prior to the start of last season, Crouse entered a blossoming depth chart and was prematurely thrust into an NHL role that he wasn’t entirely prepared for. The Roadrunners will provide a positive environment for Crouse to develop properly, and expand what was becoming something of a tunnel vision to his physical play in order to make a significant impact.
Anthony DeAngelo | 19th overall, 2014 – New York Rangers (9-7-2) / Hartford Wolfpack (6-7-1)
Rank on DobberProspects Rangers Page: 3rd
Part of the Rangers’ return for Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta was limited in what became his eight-game audition with the Blueshirts. While Deangelo may not have been the Rangers worst defenseman through that stretch, he was almost certainly their most irresponsible. Tallying only a single assist while averaging around 12 minutes per night, Deangelo will be met with patience from the Rangers who despite an offseason shuffle on the back-end, have struggled mightily in their own zone. Though not entirely a result of his departure, since DeAgelo left the Rangers, they’ve been the hottest team in the NHL. Hartford will certainly welcome DeAngelo’s offensive instinct until a top-four role is available with the Rangers.
Ivan Barbashev | 33rd overall, 2014 – St. Louis Blues (13-4-1) / Chicago Wolves (4-7-1)
Rank on DobberProspects Blues Page: 1st
The former second-round-pick was trending in keeper leagues heading into the NHL season but failed to register a single point in six contests, therefore not living up to the early season hype. Barbashev has been off to a hot start with the Wolves as he has proven he is capable of in the past. The Wolves are primarily affiliated with Vegas, who has been providing a carousel of players throughout the month, but until Barbashev is brought up by the Blues, he should be a staple offensive weapon for the mixed bag of players.
Kevin Labanc | 171st overall, 2014 – San Jose Sharks (10-6-0) / San Jose Barracuda (5–6-0)
Rank on DobberProspects Sharks Page: 1st
The most recent demotion (and subsequent recall) of a top prospect comes in the form of 21-year-old Kevin Labanc. The right-winger lit up the OHL two years ago with 127 points in 65 games with the Barrie Colts, and quickly rose through the ranks in San Jose, eventually playing much of last season in the NHL. The demotion appeared to be a bit of a wakeup call for Labanc who had cooled off offensively after a strong start with the Sharks. Labanc remains one of the Sharks top offensive prospects, who in all likelihood will figuratively take up the torch as the teams core begins to battle with Father Time. The demotion was a pleasant surprise for the San Jose Barracuda who continue to struggle early on. The Barracuda weren’t expecting to retain Labanc’s services for long, however, his quick two-game wakeup period likely wasn’t enough of a spark for the AHL affiliate. Labanc remains waiver exempt though, and has now been made aware of the flexibility that said condition offers the Sharks, should he slump again.
Prospects Starting Hot
Filip Chytil | 21st overall, 2017 3-6-9 in 8GP
Rank on DobberProspects Rangers Page: 6th – Hartford Wolfpack (New York Rangers)
The Rangers made two first-round selections at this summer’s entry draft, expecting one of those selections to challenge for a roster spot in training camp. That player was Lias Ansdersson. Fourteen picks later they selected Chytil from the Czech league, half a round to a round earlier than many thought he was valued at. It was a short summer but plenty changed from June until October, and by the time the Rangers announced their opening night roster it was Chytil, in fact, who was the draft pick to crack the lineup.
Unfortunately, Chytil didn’t receive much of a fair shake under Head Coach Alain Vingault, and after dressing for two games, he was sent packing.
Many also thought that the Rangers would opt to send Chytil back to the Czech Republic to continue to develop at a familiar pace. It was the 18-year-old himself who convinced Jeff Gorton to keep him in North America, and boy, has he made good on that opportunity.
Among rookies, Chytil trails only three other prospects in terms of points per game shooting at a relatively steady 14.3% over eight games. The early and consistent production is impressive for a forward of his age at the AHL level. A return to the NHL isn’t imminent, but with an aging core, Chytil provides flexibility for the Rangers on-the-go retool
Daniel Sprong | 46th overall, 2015 – 9-5-14 in 13GP
Rank on DobberProspects Penguins Page: 2nd – Wilkes-Barre Penguins (Pittsburgh Penguins)
The rookie pro has often been criticized for his lack of investment in a two-way style of play. He learned quite directly this fall that an attitude like that wasn’t going to earn him a spot in Pittsburgh’s top-six, and so he’s been forced to prove he’s capable in Wilkes-Barre. There’s never been much doubt in Sprong’s offensive ability, but the transition from junior to the AHL can sometimes be challenging and he’s proven early that he respects that challenge.
After getting exposure to the league in the baby Penguins' spring run for the Calder Cup, Sprong has come on strong early into the season. There’ve been very soft whispers (not rumblings) of a Phil Kessel transaction from Pittsburgh – if such a thing were to eventually transpire, Sprong would be a top candidate for the right-wing sniper gig.
Dylan Strome | 3rd overall, 2015 – 3-12-15 in 10GP
Rank on DobberProspects Coyotes Page: 2nd – Tucson Roadrunners (Arizona Coyotes)
After a back-to-back two-game transition period to the AHL at the beginning of October, Strome has tallied three multi-point games, and been held off the scoresheet in only one. Although the former third-overall pick has thus far taken a relatively rough path, he’s beginning to show signs of success against adult competition. The 6’3” pivot has found an early niche, creating space for his line mates by attracting defensive resources himself. Strome’s only knock one month into his full-time professional career is that he could be shooting a little more. It doesn’t seem like it will be much longer, though, before the skilled playmaker is up to speed. While Clayton Keller is quickly showing us that he’s capable of driving offense on any line combination, the prospect of his finish, combined with Strome’s distribution ability remains a very dangerous fantasy notion.
Prospects Starting Cold
Jesse Puljujarvi | 4th overall, 2016 1-4-5 in 10GP
Rank on DobberProspects Oilers Page: 1st – Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton Oilers)
Puljujarvi has converted on one of his first 31 AHL shots so far since being demoted from the Oilers. The fourth overall pick from 2016, who was in contention for the second overall pick, has slightly become more of a project than the Oilers may have expected. The 6’4” Finn has struggled to produce at levels that match his elite pedigree early on in his North American career, but remains a top prospect for the Oilers. The emergence of Kailer Yamamoto may hinder Puljujarvi’s long-term projections if he wins the eventual battle for his right-wing. Puljujarvi has proven in the past, however, that he is capable of driving the play on his own – adding to the Oilers top-six punch. Whether he is lined up with Connor or Leon down the line, Puljujarvi remains a potential 60-70 point producer, but he’ll have to loosen his grip a little first.
Update: Despite a slow start in the AHL, Puljujarvi was recalled by the Oilers last Friday, prior to their game against the New York Rangers. In his season debut, Puljujarvi’s size and skill proved to be a success as he netted his first NHL goal of the season.
Evgeny Svechnikov, 19th overall, 20152-1-3 in 10GP
Rank on DobberProspects Red Wings Page: 1st – Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings)
The skilled Russian was hampered in his competition for a roster spot with the Red Wings this NHL pre-season due to a neck injury sustained in training camp. Although early on, Svechnikov’s outlook for the 2017-18 season looked bright, in part due to Andreas Athanasiou’s contract status, a month into his second full AHL season, the forward seems to be losing ground. The slow start doesn’t necessarily spell doom and gloom for the 21-year-old, but after such a successful introduction last year, expectations were certainly higher. All factors being considered, Svechnikov has already planted a seed of pessimism in Ken Holland’s mind. Hotter starts from Turner Elson and Dominic Turgeon could very well put them ahead in the pecking order for now.
Countless players have proven to have streaky starts on either side of the coin over the years, and a hot or cold October doesn’t spell success or failure for a player on an individual basis. That being said, with both NHL teams and AHL teams determining their identity early on, this period can be slightly more detrimental for developing prospects who are working for their big break. A player can do a lot to help or harm his chances of a recall by proving his capabilities in the AHL, and draft pedigree can only remain a factor for so long (see Nail Yakupov). Those who do stand a much better chance of getting on the fast track with their respective clubs when they need them most. Those who don’t quite often end up taking a longer path to success, though the potential still remains – the clock is always ticking.
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